A January To-Do List for Film Buffs in L.A.

Pedro Almodovar's 'Law of Desire'

The best remedy for Hollywood's "dump month"? A vintage Almodovar or Scorsese pic, an old French classic or a timely doc, all of which can be found on a big screen in Los Angeles over the next four weeks.


At 83 years old, French filmmaker Jean-Marie Straub is one of the world’s most revered living artists. While he continues to make movies at a yearly clip, Straub’s output with his late partner Danièle Huillet, whom he collaborated with for over four decades, remains his most renowned work. And yet their films remain exceedingly difficult to see, rarely screening theatrically and with only a few choice titles having ever been released on home video. Which makes the UCLA Film and Television Archive’s upcoming series, “Not Reconciled: The Cinema of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet,” the first retrospective of these modernist iconoclasts ever presented in Los Angeles, not only rare, but unprecedented. Running throughout January (and extending into February, before moving onto Los Angeles Filmforum and the ArtCenter College of Design), this largely 35mm program offers an ample cross-section of the duo’s most celebrated and cerebral work, beginning on Friday with their best-known film, The Chronicle of Ana Magdalena Bach, and following with such masterworks as Moses and Aaron (Saturday, screening with From Today Until Tomorrow), Not Reconciled (Monday, paired with Fortini/Cani), From the Clouds to the Resistance (Jan. 13, screening alongside their final film together, These Encounters of Theirs) and Class Relations (Jan. 23). With their groundbreaking, highly austere style, employing literary and poetic devices in the service of a peerlessly intelligent and uncompromising cinema, the films of Straub-Huillet worked tirelessly to elevate language and dramaturgy to the realm of high art. Unmissable.


Opening on Jan. 27 at the Laemmle Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles is a new 4K digital restoration of “The Marseille Trilogy,” three classic French films from the dawn of the sound era scripted by renowned playwright Marcel Pagnol. Inspired by the growing popularity and possibilities of the moving image, Pagnol proposed a cinematic adaptation of his 1928 play, Marius, to Paramount Studios, who agreed to fund the project and enlist director Alexander Korda to helm the production. Released in 1931, Marius would prove an instant success, so much so that Pagnol’s and Korda’s neorealist-stoking depiction of the French coastal town and a pair of daydreaming shopkeepers would soon inspire two sequels, Fanny and César, made in relatively quick succession throughout the '30s. Fanny, directed by Marc Allégret, follows Marius’ now-pregnant girlfriend as she copes with her lover’s absence and the advances of an older widower named Panisse, while César, directed by Pagnol himself, picks up 20 years later, following Fanny’s son as he investigates his past and attempts to learn the identity of his true father. Totaling nearly seven hours, “The Marseille Trilogy” unfolds with an uncommon level of intimacy and nuance, veering from comedy to melodrama in one of the era’s most expansive family sagas.


Throughout January, in celebration of the recent release of Julieta, the Cinefamily will present “All About Almodóvar,” a complete retrospective of films by iconic Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar. Screening in a combination of DCP and 35mm prints, the series offers a convenient occasion to acquaint oneself with such early, sexually and socially subversive films as Matador (Jan. 13), Dark Habits (Jan. 15), Labyrinth of Passion (Jan. 20), Law of Desire (Jan. 21) and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (Jan. 21) –– many of which star the director’s longtime muse, Antonio Banderas –– as well as revisit the subsequent international triumphs All About My Mother (Saturday), Talk to Her (Jan. 15) and Volver (Jan. 13). Further, with Julieta restoring a bit of that same critical favor, it could prove productive, even for those less inclined, to reevaluate some of the helmer’s more outré recent efforts, such as the genre-tinged The Skin I Live In (Friday) and, most especially, the scintillating Bad Education (Jan. 14), an opportunity this generous retrospective affords many times over.


On Jan. 12 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles Filmforum presents “Claiming Space: Collage in Cinema,” an intriguing program of classic and contemporary collage- and montage-based films that run the gamut from rhythmic musical experiments to essayistic nonfiction to cut-out animation. Amongst the most noteworthy titles are Julie Dash’s 16mm dance film Four Women, set to the sounds of Nina Simone’s eponymous protest ballad; Barbara McCullough’s radical Afro-feminist landscape film Water Ritual #1: An Urban Rite of Purification; Lewis Klahr’s playfully lascivious stop-motion domestic porn panorama Downs Are Feminine; and Jean-Luc Godard’s fin de siècle war reverie Origins of the 21st Century. Capped with new works by Ja’Tovia M. Gary and Ephram Asili, this program of far-flung provocations reiterates the potency of cultural creativity in the face of social suppression and artistic marginalization alike.


On Jan. 29, Film at REDCAT open its winter season with the timely resurrection of Howard Alk and Michael Gray’s incendiary documentary The Murder of Fred Hampton. This devastating 1971 portrait of the life and the death of the onetime Black Panthers leader captures the energy of the late-1960s Chicago with a rare and vibrant intimacy, unearthing and dissecting an unsettling sociopolitical anxiety that resulted in the senseless murder of Hampton at the hands of the FBI and, ultimately, an evermore fractured community. On hand to discuss the film, its politics and its unfortunate relevancy following the screening will be UCLA scholar Robin Kelley, activist and Black Panthers member Ericka Huggins and multimedia artist Sam Durant. 


With no theme or featured series this month, the New Beverly calendar is especially diverse, even by their unique standards. Keen eyes, however, will spot a handful of notable double features and special events. First, a pair of boxing-related double bills: On Friday and Saturday, Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull and Franco Prosperi’s The Boxer, followed on Sunday and Monday by Sylvester Stallone’s directorial debut Paradise Alley (screening in a new 35mm print) and Wallace Fox's poverty row picture Kid Dynamite. Elsewhere, for the genre enthusiasts, there is the Jan. 11 and 12 pairing of Umberto Lenzi's From Hell to Victory and the original Inglorious Bastards, the film that inspired New Bev-owner Quentin Tarantino's celebrated reimagining; an all-night Dario Argento marathon on Jan. 13 (titles to be revealed the night of the screening); and a Jan. 14 triple bill of Crack House, Vice Squad and the Charles Bronson-starring Death Wish II. And finally, there is a trio of unrelated but nonetheless notable double bills: On Jan. 18 and 19, Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show and its belated sequel Texasville; Sydney Pollack's The Yakuza and John Flynn's Rolling Thunder on Jan. 20 and 21; on Jan. 25 and 26, Vittorio De Sica's Two Women, starring Sophia Loren in her Oscar-winning role, and Luigi Comenici's Bebo's Girl; and, on Jan. 29 and 30, a pair of classic John Ford Westerns, The Searchers and Sergeant Rutledge.